Trey Culver’s a two-time NCAA champion in the high jump, so the Texas Tech senior knows how it feels to be up. His spirits are more buoyant than usual, though, going into the 2018 season.
Culver said he and his teammates are “over the roof” with anticipation to compete in the new $48 million Sports Performance Center. The facility debuts Saturday with the inaugural Corky Classic, named for former Tech track and field coach Corky Oglesby, who died Nov. 19 from pancreatic cancer.
“We’re all just thankful and super excited,” Culver said this week. “It’s very beautiful.”
Texas, Oklahoma State, LSU, Houston and Baylor will join Texas Tech’s teams in the season-opening meet. Field events start at 11 a.m., a video tribute to Oglesby is set for 12:45 p.m. and running events are scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. About 75 to 100 former Tech track and field athletes and staff members also will be recognized.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time,” Culver said. “Having this facility, we know it’s one of the nicest in the nation.”
The Sports Performance Center is two sports buildings in one: a football indoor practice facility on the east side and a track and field venue on the west side, separated by sliding doors 150 feet wide and 35 feet tall. That’s not to mention a weight room, nutrition center and sports medicine center all housed under the two-level roof, across the way from Jones AT&T Stadium.
For all the new building’s amenities, the 200-meter banked track with a Beynon Sports surface is the focal point for Tech coach Wes Kittley.
“I think I’m most partial to the track itself,” Kittley said. “It is the widest radius built in the world today. It is the fastest NCAA track, I believe. We’re about to find out, and no one has that. We have 42-inch lanes. Most everyone’s 36 to 39, so it’s the widest track, the widest lanes and I think the fastest surface with Beynon. So that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
One feature Kittley wanted was the sliding doors so that athletes warming up on the football turf field can watch events going on in the track side. He said that’s different from other venues the Red Raiders and Lady Raiders visit.
“When you’re in there warming up (at other locations), you can’t see what’s going on in here,” he said, “and I hated that. That’s the reason I put the doors in.”
The Sports Performance Center has permanent seating for about 800, though additional seating will be brought in when Tech hosts next year’s Big 12 indoor championships.
Tech will host meets each of the next six weeks, a sharp contrast to last year when the entire regular-season schedule consisted of road trips. This winter, the Red Raiders and Lady Raiders won’t leave home until the Big 12 championships Feb. 23-24 at Iowa State.
“I was thinking we were headed to Arkansas on a 10-hour bus ride last year at this time,” Kittley said, “and so that’s what’s going to be really helpful for our kids, to not get beat up in the indoor season. It’s tempting to run everybody every week here, and I won’t be able to do that, because these boards are harder on your body. A tight, 200-meter bank, they’re harder on your body, but it’s also very fast.”
Tech returns six athletes who were all-Americans during the 2017 indoor season: Zarriea Willis in the women’s high jump and, on the men’s side, Culver, jumper Charles Brown and 1,600-meter relay members Andrew Hudson, C.J. Jones and Steven Champlin.
Last year, Tech had realistic hopes for a men’s top-five finish at the NCAA outdoor championships, hopes that were dashed in part by injuries to key personnel. Kittley said several of those athletes who were on the shelf for all or at the end of the outdoor season are recovered and ready to go for indoor.
Among them are Brown, pole vaulter Brandon Bray, hurdler Norman Grimes and sprinters Divine Oduduru and Hudson.
Bray was sidelined last year by a broken rib and Grimes by a fractured heel. While Bray was out, teammate Drew McMichael was runner-up in the pole vault at the Big 12 outdoor with a school record 18 feet, 1 inch.
“Bray looks good, so I’m excited to see them,” Kittley said. “Norman Grimes will run. I think he’ll run in the 600 and a B team (1,600 relay) and probably start hurdling pretty quick. He’s asking us to hurdle this week, and we haven’t decided.”